Oman is hoping to reap tourism benefits this month from the Middle East’s first FIFA World Cup.
Thirty-two nations will face each other in 64 matches at eight stadiums, all within 56 kilometres of each other, providing fans the opportunity to witness more games than ever before. The events in Doha, from Nov 20 to Dec 18, mean big business for airlines, hotels, restaurants, tour operators and others.
Qatar will get the lion’s share – a 3.5 per cent bump to its GDP. But with 1.3 million fans expected, the small nation of about three million people will have more business than it can handle. Accommodation will be an issue. Besides traditional hotel rooms, Qatar is pressing into service “floating hotels” in temporarily moored cruise ships, serviced apartments, villas, and desert camps.
But these will provide only 130,000 rooms. Most of the fans will stay in neighbouring nations and take daily shuttle flights to Doha.
Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and Tourism is promoting Muscat, 1,000 km away, as the satellite city of choice. Various airlines are organising several shuttle flights a day. Oman Air, for example, charges RO 99 (US$257) for return tickets in economy class and RO 305 for business class. Fans will spend 1 hour 40 minutes in the air each way but will save on room costs in Muscat.
To make it simple and seamless for fans, the ministry is integrating its Oman World Cup Programme with Qatar’s Hayya card, which is to be used by fans for entering the state during the World Cup and for access to its various stadiums and match-day travel.
Undersecretary Azzan Qasim Al Busaidi, who oversees the programme, says Oman will give card holders certain privileges. They will get a free 60-day multi-entry visa, counted from the first day of arrival into Oman. They can enjoy special airfares, accommodation and transportation deals and discounted tour packages. They can also take part in a Football Fan Festival, the largest to be ever held in Oman.
Those who plan to stay on after the World Cup can look forward to other events such as a Heritage Festival in the Governorate of Dakhiliyah, Desert Adventures in Bidiyah, and a Maritime Heritage Festival in Sur.
Fans who want to enjoy the World Cup games while based in Oman can apply for the 60-day multi-entry visa via the Oman e-visa website. Keep the following documents handy: your Hayya card; airline and accommodation bookings; and passport copy and photo.
Other institutions collaborating in the Oman World Cup Programme include the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth, Royal Oman Police, OMRAN Group, Oman Air, and Oman Airports.